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Frontline health workers describe emotional toll of COVID care

Published: Dec. 14, 2020 at 7:15 PM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic are bearing a heavy burden. Monday morning, nurses and doctors in Virginia provided a glimpse of what they’re going through.

“Our health system is exploding with COVID-19 health numbers,” said Dr. Amit Vashist, chief clinical officer of Ballad Health, which operates hospitals in Virginia and Tennessee. “As of today we have 340-plus patients in our health system who are fighting for their lives.”

Vashist was just one of several medical professionals who briefed U.S. Senator Tim Kaine during a teleconference Monday morning.

From doctors and nurses in Abingdon to health professionals across the state, they shared a common thread: heartbreaking stories of patients with COVID 19 and the emotional toll on the people who are caring for them.

Heather Mayberry is a clinical nurse specialist at Lynchburg General Hospital.

“They want you to know they’ve never been in a world of nursing where so many patients are intubated in a single shift, where there are so many codes in a single shift, so many deaths in a single shift,” Mayberry said. “And that in itself to them is emotionally exhausting.”

“I’ve never been so proud of my colleagues, but I’ve never been so worried for my colleagues,” added Dr. Patricia Sime, chair of the Department of Internal Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond.

Kaine has introduced legislation that would provide funding for mental health training, treatment and research. The measure is named for Dr. Lorna Breen, a New York emergency room doctor from Charlottesville who took her own life in April.

Dr. Breen’s sister and brother-in-law, Jennifer and Corey Feist, created the Dr. Laura Breen Heroes Foundation to fight burnout and promote the well-bring of health professionals.

“This is an existing issue,” Jennifer Feist said. “This is a pre-existing issue, and it’s gotten so much worse. These people are working hard and they’ve worked for months and months. And they need our support.”

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